On three separate occasions, VOA, the Voice of America, has commissioned a mobile radio station for use within the United States. On each occasion, the intent was to obtain information and recordings about lifestyle and events throughout the nation for inclusion in their worldwide English and foreign language programming.
The first of these three mobile radio stations was constructed and fitted out with radio equipment by RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, in 1951. This vehicle was identified as Mobile Unit Number 1, and it was intended to serve as a roving microphone throughout the nation.
The basic vehicle was a truck chassis with a specially constructed van designed by VOA engineers. A large sign on the side of the van identified the Voice of America, and a smaller sign indicated the International Broadcasting Division of the American Department of State.
The completed vehicle was described as a streamlined radio studio on wheels and it contained a complete radio studio, control room, recording equipment, and an intercommunication system. In addition there was also a low power shortwave transmitter for the transfer of audio programming direct to the VOA studios in Washington DC.
On May 8, 1952, RCA delivered the new mobile radio station to the Voice of America in a special ceremony at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Fluttering above and surrounding the ceremony was a concourse of full color flags, representing the almost 200 countries of the United Nations.
However when in use, the new VOA mobile radio station encountered mechanical problems and even after expensive modification, it was deemed unroadworthy. It was taken out for its intended usage only a couple of times.
Thirty years later, a second and somewhat more successful attempt was made in the construction and usage of a VOA mobile radio station. Construction began in 1984 for what became known as the VOA Voyager.
It was a fully equipped radio studio in an Airstream Van upon a truck chassis, 27 feet long. The shiny new vehicle was colored in red white and blue signage, with a map of the world on one side.
The Voice of America took delivery of that new mobile radio station (number 2) in a brief ceremony in Washington DC on Friday January 18, 1985. Aboard this station, in addition to the extensive radio equipment, was a small kitchen and a small bathroom. However it was necessary for the staff to generally use public accommodation in motels and to eat in local restaurants.
Each rotatable crew consisted of two programming personnel and a driver who was also a competent radio technician. In addition there was an accompanying car with additional personnel as needed. Locally recorded programming was transferred to the VOA studios in Washington DC via the normal telephone circuits.
Their first tour of five weeks in early 1985 took them to Nashville Tennessee for participation in the annual Country Music Festival, and then onward into Mississippi. Over a period of time, and with continually rotating crew members, ultimately every mainland state was visited. Live and recorded broadcasts in ultimately forty different languages covered a multitude of different facets of life and activity and events throughout the United States.
The popular VOA Voyager was in widespread usage for almost two years. However in 1987, mechanical problems and budget cuts brought an end to the usefulness of the Voyager van.
The third VOA mobile radio station was a smaller vehicle with a simpler design. It was known as Voyager 2, and because of its smaller size, it was also known as Son of Voyager. That was back in the year 1990.
However because of budget cuts again, VOA mobile unit number 3 was sold to the United Nations during the following year (1991) and shipped to Africa where it served in Botswana.
This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of November 6, 2022